Suzi Finkelstein: Take a look at the Lid! 

Sue Kench, Global Chief Executive of King & Wood Mallesons, once said, ‘Don’t build the jigsaw unless you can clearly see the picture on the box.’

She shared this recently at the Australian Women’s Leadership Symposium, the sister series of Symposiums to the New Zealand Women's Leadership Symposium. The nods across the room were noticeable; all attendees could easily relate. Sue was on a panel and there were over 250 participants in the room eagerly taking notes.  

Sue made an excellent point - have you ever tried to put a jigsaw together without looking at the picture you are trying to make?

It would be a bit difficult, wouldn’t it? You would tip the pieces out of the box, sort them by colour and find the edges and corner pieces. Next would be to find the lines and the patterns, but then what? Without a clear idea of what the jigsaw should look like at the end, you have no way of knowing where to begin and what steps to take. The lines may not even connect and the patterns could be just that and not contribute to the picture. It doesn’t matter that you have all the pieces if you don’t know what to do with them.

That’s why jigsaw puzzles have a picture on the lid - so you know when you’ve reached your goal and you can plot out how best to reach it.

How often do you find yourself working on the jigsaw without a clear visual of what the finished product needs to look like? I’ll confess, I have. I am a big picture person; I get so excited by the shiny new possibilities. I have a few team members equally motivated by this thinking (funny how we are drawn to others like ourselves!). We identify a new opportunity, whether it is a partner, a program or an initiative and off we go.

But how do we figure out what the picture on our metaphorical jigsaw puzzle box is?

We get up on the balcony.

You have probably heard me preach about the importance of these moments, where we literally step up and peer over the balcony to have a good look at the dance floor. The concept comes from the great work of Ronald Heifeitz from the Center for Public Leadership and is the King Hussein bin Talal Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School.

This concept is one that is so easy to relate to. Take a moment to consider what you see when you are standing on a dance floor. You are probably aware of those immediately around you, and yes, you are aware of the steps that others are making, the good, bad and ugly!

However, if you step up on the balcony and look down on to the very same dancefloor, what can you now see that you haven’t seen before?  You can see those not on the dance floor, you can see those dancing together and those on the outer. You can probably also see how you are fitting in, or not.

I have found that without a ‘balcony moment’ I am trying to make pieces fit and even bringing in new pieces (probably from other boxes) and trying to make them fit too. I often don’t even realise that I have lost sight of the picture! Or that the picture has changed, or needs to.

These balcony moments force us to broaden our view, to literally see the `bigger picture’. This is sometimes referred to as the helicopter perspective, the 30,000 foot view, or similar. I am proud to say that these balcony moments now take precedence in meetings and in my daily reflective practice. The impact has been noticeable.

In business, the picture on the jigsaw puzzle is always changing, there are constantly new pieces being added, pieces we can use to create the picture in a new and exciting way. That is why making time to step onto the balcony often is important.

The value of the balcony is that it helps to refocus. Personal experience has taught me that using a few guiding questions can really assist and increase clarity. I sometimes recruit trusted colleagues who I can rely on to challenge or validate my perspective.

I have found that taking this time and really paying attention to those balcony moments has helped me realize that we need to adjust the image on the jigsaw puzzle box, the pieces, or both.

It is these realisations that allow us to work effectively and positively, but this cannot happen when we are constantly amongst the business and not checking in. If we never step out, we will never realise that the business has shifted.  And no one likes an incomplete puzzle. 

Suzi Finkelstein, Director, Leadership and Advocacy, WLNZ

More from WLNZ: 

Suzi Finkelstein on the power of amplification

Taking Account: Finally recognising women's work

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